Computer Thing Might Be Garbage

[Tech Time Traveller] has a lot of voices in his head this week, and most of them are worried about his wife’s reaction to him buying other people’s garbage. We don’t blame him, though. He bought it from an estate sale and it was billed as a TV typewriter. The device looked completely homebrewed from somewhere around the late 1970s to the early 1980s. It contains a mess of components obviously hand-built in a combination of neat construction and messy wiring.

[Tech] videos most of his tests and exploration to get the thing working and tested. Given its age and construction, it worked surprisingly well, although it did take a little work to get it back to complete function. In fact, he bought the device three years ago and is finally getting around to finishing the project and putting together the video.

The terminal had a very odd Molex connector with a missing pin that matched the SWTP 6800’s serial port. A little investigation revealed that the same estate sale had sold a 6800-based computer, too. The keyboard itself was actually something you could buy at Radio Shack for a while. We wonder how many of them got used and how many just sat on shelves until they were junked.

You have to wonder what the story is behind this device and the matching computer. It took a great deal of skill to build something like this back in the day. Today, you could easily do something like this using off-the-shelf stuff. You have to wonder if anything you are building today will be on the next generation’s version of YouTube in the year 2070. Probably not.

TV typewriters were definitely a thing, launched by a famous book by [Don Lancaster]. When you look at all the circuitry required, it is amazing to think you can now fit a whole computer inside something like this.

9 thoughts on “Computer Thing Might Be Garbage

  1. Fascinating… I saw a similar pile of late 70s digital freestyle a few years back, turned out to have an MK14 buried in it. Was in similar shape to what this was as received, corroded and loose looking connections covered in a gritty cobweb mess of dust. So since it was being sold at what was a “I think I found an Apple 1” kind of price back then, I passed.

    Figuring out homebrew boards takes a lot of time and determination, both of which I have found lacking in this case … still don’t have much clue about it, beyond yer basic ROM bone connected to Address bone, etc. It’s more of a mystery why it hasn’t lost it’s LCD to ProMini clone or something yet :-D

  2. The original TV Typewriter was primitive. Shift registers as memory, I know they dried upfastfor other things. And all it could do was put text on a TV screen.

    There were soon mods and second generation. I seem to recall variants or new models “quite late”.

    So this might be one of a few possibilities.

    If I found this, I’d be nagged about what else had been there.

    1. I actually used my Radio Shack keyboard possibly 40 years after buying it in a Searle-based terminal, with a PIC scanning the keyboard to serial. It was pretty good, double-shot molded keytops, etc.

      I have a fabulous keyboard lying around that uses Honeywell hall-effect switches that I’ve seen go for $15.00+ each used. I’m not sure if it works but it’s on my to-do list. Hope all the switches work!

  3. Not sure where I came across it but I had a Radio Shack keyboard as well that I cut all the traces on, then rewired to use on an Atari 400 computer. Connected it with a ribbon cable through a Dsub15 connector. Internally, the keyboard was wired in parallel with the membrane keyboard. At the time, it was easier and more affordable than purchasing an Atari 800.

    1. At one point around 1984-5-ish, Radio Shack was dumping the “full sized keys” upgrade keyboard for Color Computers. I bought one to upgrade my Timex Sinclair 2000 and when I got it home I discovered it had a flexible membrane behind the keys. I had a devil of a time cutting all the traces and wiring it with 30ga Kynar wire and tape. It was never reliable, but it *was* better than the Sinclair’s stock keyboard. Then almost immediately they closed out the Model 4P. I bought one and never looked back at the Sinclair. I learned every aspect of that machine right down to the floppy controller registers and it made me the nerd I am today. :-) :-)

      1. Those Radio Shack keyboards were intended for a new model of the CoCo, which was then cancelled. Except about 1986 or 87, they did bring out the CoCo III, which had a more decent keyboard.

        Radio Shack at one point was selling some other key oard, I think for the TI 99/4.

        People forget that keyboards were kind of standard in the seventies. Don Lancaster wrote about making one for the TV Typewriter, because thereweren’t surplus keyboards in large quantities at that point, or at least not all the same kind. But soon there were. An ASCII keyboard was an ASCII keyboard. Keyboards meant for “home computers” were generally just the keys wired in some matrix, the electronics external. I doubt the keyboard on the OSI Superboard was made especially for it, so that sort of keyboard was available.

        Mid-eighties I got a surplus keyboard, just the keys on a piece of metal. I wired them up, and used it with my Radio Shack Color Computer, a better keyboard, and remote too.

        IBM made keyboards hard.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.